Inside the exclusive high-roller Chinese banquet amenity only seven-figure gamblers and penthouse guests can access.
Casino gamblers in Las Vegas log long hours throwing dice, hitting and sticking at blackjack, turning over cards at baccarat. Win or lose, though, they eventually have to eat.
But time of day is immaterial on the windowless, clock-free, gambling floors of Sin City. Hence, players live in their own biological or geographical or fortune-chasing time zones. It’s why every casino boasts a 24-hour coffee shop cum diner—where breakfast, lunch and dinner get served continuously—and late-night noodle shops are just about de rigueur.
But not all gamblers are created equally. The biggest players, the so-called whales, who put millions of dollars at risk, do not necessarily want to leave their tables for sustenance or nurse $100,000 losses while dining among the hoi polloi.
Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, entrenched as one of the coolest, ritziest spots in town, feeds its whales in style. Gamble high enough there—wagering, say, $500 per hand at blackjack—and you get to play in an out-of-the-way high roller backroom called the Talon Club. It feels more like an old-school men’s club than a casino and is a fantastic place in which to risk a fortune.
Get deep at the Talon—with seven-figures in play over the course of a weekend—and you’ll eat like an emperor, whatever the hour, courtesy of chef Sam Yip. Formerly of Hong Kong, more recently of the Mansion at MGM Grand (an elite casino within a casino, it was once favored by Tiger Woods), Yip whips up delectable dishes such as a beautifully nuanced seafood tofu soup, Australian lobster in a Thai sauce flecked with chili peppers, all manner of Kobe beef preparations and a luxurious fried rice topped with black truffles. They roll out of a full-on Chinese kitchen that his culinary commandos keep hot around the clock.
Not your average Sino joint, the Talon offers world-class Peking duck that can be whipped up with a couple day’s notice and shark fin soup (which may be put on hold this year, pending a potential 2018 ban) requiring two hours or so for prep. “Most people are okay with this,” says the Cosmo’s director of butlers Jenthew Yung. “Others are starving and tell me, ‘I want to have this now!’ For them, we can quickly do shark fin in chicken broth.”
Then there are the Chinese gamblers who insist on going off menu to enjoy tastes from home. “They might want minced pork with salty fish or braised tomato with scrambled egg,” says Yung. “And we can customize the food so that it tastes as it does in a guest’s particular region of China.”
But the Talon’s high-end menu—which makes Western concessions via salt and pepper chicken wings and Mandarin ribs—is a culinary treat for only the highest of high rollers. “If you are staying in one of our Boulevard Penthouses [four floors of high-design villas put aside for whales], you can eat here,” confirms Yung. “Most others? Nope.”
For the casino’s coddled guests, he adds, “At any hour, they can have Chinese banquets.” Ticking off delicacies such as abalone, cordyceps mushrooms (“More expensive by weight than gold”) and Bird’s Nest Soup among the blue-chip items routinely on offer, Yung continues, “And they can eat at the gaming table while they play. Our guests like to play all the time.”
When a rare breather is warranted, China-based gamblers find themselves in familiar surroundings with round dining tables, spinning Lazy Susans and in-wall flatscreen monitors playing shows from home. That said, there is at least one innovation that feels more Vegas-centric than what you typically find in Hong Kong or on the Mainland. Yung holds up his iPad and tunes in to what you might call Tank TV: a camera focused on the kitchen’s live-fish tank so that gamblers can sit at the table, barely take eyes off of their cards, and pick out the swimmers that they want included in their meals.
For those not satisfied with the Talon’s in-house offerings, Yung dispatches staffers to In-N-Out Burger or to the casino’s high-end outposts that include Blue Ribbon, STK, Jose Andres’ modern-Spanish eatery Jaleo and the Greek seafood spot Estiatorio Milos. Then he plates the takeaway food on fine china and creates a greatest hits groaning-board from the Cosmopolitan. “We have a guest who orders enough food for 30 people but it’s just for him and one friend,” says Yung. “He also likes virgin daiquiris and king crab from our kitchen’s tank. Then he has the leftovers wrapped up and brought to his suite.”
Clearly, if you’re going to risk some ungodly sum of money in a casino, you might as well have a Chinese banquet—or the Western equivalent—at your fingertips while you do it. As foodie facilitator Jenthew Yung puts it, “We will do anything we can to make our guests happy. If a guest makes a request out of his mind, we will make it happen.”